Hard Truths About Caring for Aging Parents – The Caring Generation®
The Caring Generation® – Episode 104 September 22, 2021. On this episode, caregiving expert Pamela D Wilson talks openly about the challenges and trade-offs adult caregivers experience when making decisions to care for aging parents, spouses, and other family members. Should caregivers give up careers, marriages, income, education, health, and well-being?
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Hard Truths About Caring for Aging Parents
This is Pamela D Wilson, caregiving expert, eldercare consultant, and author. This week’s episode is a mini-pod or a mini-podcast episode that I create specifically to respond to situations and questions you share with me on social media, my online caregiver group, or by completing the caregiver survey on pameladwilson.com. Thank you for your continued requests and for sharing this podcast with over 100 episodes with everyone you know.
Watch More Videos About Caregiving and Aging on Pamela’s YouTube Channel
The topic for this show is the hard truths about caring for aging parents and how to manage life cycle transitions. As you know, becoming a caregiver is not a simple black-and-white decision. Many caregivers tell me they didn’t have a choice. Women struggle to decide to continue a career, have children, get married, or care for aging parents. Men, who are the main breadwinners in the family, rarely stray from work commitments to choose between career and family.
The first hard truths about caring for aging parents is to decide how much interaction you want with your parents throughout your life. The decision to remain living in the same town as your parents or move away affects caregiving responsibilities later in life. For some, caregiving responsibilities may be around the corner—sooner for some caregivers, later in life for others. You don’t realize that your life is about to get derailed when you become a caregiver.
Life Cycle Transitions Affect the Timing and Care of Aging Parents
You might marry and have children. Then you’re looking at middle age and the possibility of caring for aging parents or grandparents. Single adults find themselves in the role of caring for middle-aged or baby boomer parents.
As life continues, we all look forward to retirement. Surprise—few children expect to spend their retirement years caring for aging parents. Still, the hard truth about caring for aging parents is that many retired adults become caregivers. If not for a spouse, then first for aging parents.
Adult children in their 70’s spend their retirement years and retirement savings to care for 90-year-old parents. Before or after retirement, the life cycle transition moves to caring for a spouse or becoming someone who needs care. Being a spouse caregiver, knowing that one day you will be alone, can be a scary proposition, especially if you don’t have a good plan for who or how you will receive care.
What happens if you are financially dependent on a sick spouse expected to die before you? How will you pay the bills or pay for the care you need?
Women, let this be a warning for you. The hard truths about caring for aging parents or a spouse is – do not rely on a husband’s income or family savings to support you when you are older. If you do, there may be no money left for you and your care, like many caregivers I speak with.
Passing Caregiving Responsibilities from Generation to Generation
Are you aware of the short- and long-term effects of passing caregiving responsibilities down from generation to generation? While some families may believe in the responsibility to care for aging parents—is there a different way or a better way to make sure parents receive care and you are NOT the only caregiver?
Unfortunately, the hard truths about caring for aging parents is that there is no single right or wrong answer to many care decisions involving elderly family members. One solution is for families to think about caregiving differently, including the entire family situation and the lifecycles of having and raising children, caring for aging parents, a spouse, and care for the caregiver.
Let’s continue to talk about the hard truths about caring for aging parents related to family life cycle transitions. Individuals or families rarely discuss caring for aging parents or life cycle transitions when planning for the future because there’s is no emphasis on the importance of thinking about these topics or the pitfalls of not planning for the future.
Care Costs and Caregiving Affect Family Income
Many financial planners are not familiar with expenses related to eldercare. So your financial advisor may not know how to educate you about the hard truths about caring for aging parents and caregiving costs. As many of you know, caregiving isn’t discussed until devoting time to care for aging parents, a sibling, a spouse, or self becomes a daily reality.
Decisions about life cycle transitions include having children, marrying, pursuing a career, caring for aging parents or a spouse, and becoming someone who eventually needs care. It’s important to have these conversations.
Other challenges relating to the hard truth about caring for aging parents include cultural beliefs about caregiving and barriers to self-sufficiency like being employed or not, pursuing education, even the ability to work can be limited by physical health. If you don’t talk about caregiving before it happens, you quickly realize everything you don’t know when you find yourself in the role of a caregiver.
The Choices Caregivers Make to Care for Aging Parents
For example, if you are a solo ager or you’ve become single through divorce, death, separation, or you enjoy living alone, you have more planning to do than most. Or what happens when you learn that your parents have NOT saved money to pay for their care and now you’re the one expected to pay the bills.
Your first thought may be to move in with your parents or move them in with you to save money. But is this the best or right choice? The hard truths about caring for aging parents is that many families who move in together to provide care for an aging parent often become financially strapped when a son or daughter gives up their job to be a caregiver.
At first, you may look at caregiving as an opportunity to escape from a job or a boss you hate. Later though, you regret giving up a career and all of the education you invested in only to become financially dependent on a spouse or a parent and not have a penny to call your own.
This is another hard truth about caring for aging parents. Let’s look at the entire life cycle transition related to caregiving. A baby is born and initially needs total care until becoming an adult who becomes a caregiver for children, parents, a spouse, and others.
The caregiver ages becomes sick, and reverts to needing total care like a baby at the beginning of life—especially if there is a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. The hard truths about caring for aging parents is the realization that caregivers, depending on their health, may need the type of care provided for aging parents.
How Family Culture Affects Who Will Be the Caregiver
Let’s talk about family culture and caregiving. Were you born into an individualistic family culture that believes in self-sufficiency or a collectivist culture that sets aside individual achievement to work toward the good of all in the family?
Family cultural beliefs affect the care for aging parents. For example, if you’re in a collectivist family and you are the youngest daughter, all of the responsibility may fall on you. Becoming that caregiver is not negotiable. More hard truths about caring for aging parents.
No one likes to talk about the realities of life and death. Death is an unpleasant subject. Elderly parents may refuse to talk about legal planning or burial plans. Adult children find talking about the death of a parent too emotionally traumatic.
In between life and death are many positive impacts of life cycle transitions and challenges—that if discussed openly, make caregiving a recurring topic instead of a subject of hesitation and disagreement.
Should Caregivers Give Up Their Lives to Care for Aging Parents?
Here is the other reason for discussing life cycle transitions within families. If you are a caregiver who devotes time to care for mom, dad, a spouse, or grandparents, are you trading one part of your life to be the caregiver? Should you give up your life, to what degree, and for how long? Society would say yes, but society doesn’t pay your bills or go without medical care when you don’t have the income to pay your insurance co-pays.
Hard truths about caring for aging parents include the fact that caregivers often become impoverished or suffer financially or personally because they give up so much. If you are a caregiver, it’s possible this role happened overnight, much like that house that fell out of the sky on the Wicked Witch of the East in the movie the Wizard of Oz.
You weren’t asked if you wanted to be a caregiver. You didn’t agree. The need arose, and you were the only person willing to step up.
Choosing Between Raising Children and Caring for Elderly Parents
More hard truths about caring for aging parents. Your siblings may disagree about who will help aging parents. Your parents may need care and may not be the nicest or most agreeable people. Many adult children commit to being caregivers out of a sense of duty and responsibility in return for the 18 or more years of care provided by parents.
Children who have poor relationships with their parents may refuse to be caregivers. Adult children grow up, have children, and find themselves caring for aging parents.
As the child stuck in the middle, how do you decide who receives the time, attention, and financial resources? Is it your children or your elderly parents? If both, how will you save money to pay for your care when older as you experience the direct effect of your parents not saving money to pay for their care?
How A Lack of Planning Affects Family Relationships
Thinking about family life cycle transitions—do you put your life on hold to have children or commit to a career or talk to your parents today about their plans to save money and pay for their care?
Did your mom stay home and not work so that she could raise you? How did that work out financially for your parents who need care today?
Decisions to marry, have children, pursue a career or not, that may not seem significant at the time—create ripple effects that affect every generation in the family. These are the hard truths about life cycle transitions and caring for aging parents that no one thinks of or wants to talk about because the subject and the decisions that must be made are unpleasant.
Before you got pregnant, did you think about the possibility of adding mom or dad to the people you will care for or moving mom or dad into your home to provide care? How will caring for your aging parents would affect you, your marriage, your family your career? Have you thought about this?
After this break, we’ll talk about how being in denial about the needs of aging parents makes talking about caregiving life cycle transitions more of a struggle. The Caring Generation is not limited by time zone or location—caregivers worldwide can listen any time of day.
Visit my website pameladwilson.com to check out my caregiver course online, Taking Care of Elderly Parents: Stay at Home and Beyond, with 30 hours of webinars and other information featuring practical steps for taking care of elderly parents, spouses, and how to make a plan for aging and health.
It’s never too early to make a plan to live the best life possible today and in your later years. This is Pamela D Wilson, caregiver expert, consultant, and author on the Caring Generation. Stay with me. I’ll be right back.
This is Pamela D Wilson, caregiving speaker, expert, and advocate on The Caring Generation program for caregivers and aging adults. Whether you are twenty or 100 years old, you’re in exactly the right place to learn about caregiver support programs, health, well-being, and other resources to help you and your loved ones plan for what’s ahead.
If you’re not sure how to talk to your children about caregiving issues, if you’ve tried to talk to your aging parents and that didn’t go so well, let me start the conversation for you. Share The Caring Generation podcasts with family, friends, and everyone you know. There are over 100 episodes.
Conflict and Family Disagreements
Let’s discuss more of the hard truths about caring for aging parents. The conflict and family disagreements surrounding caregiving responsibilities can be significant. The mental activity required to manage routine care tasks and keep everybody happy requires a lot of effort. The emotional work to make others happy is often in conflict with how caregivers feel about situations.
The experience of emotional distress is why learning to set boundaries is important for the caregiver’s overall well-being. Caregiving can become physically challenging when providing hands-on care. Hands-on care includes the activities of bathing, shaving, brushing teeth, trimming nails, and completing other personal care tasks that can be physically exhausting, embarrassing, and sometimes unpleasant.
Providing 24/7 Care for Aging Parents
If you’re a caregiver, think back to the first time you had to bathe a parent or change Depends. These are tasks that caregivers learn, but that can be initially uncomfortable. In addition to the daily work of caregiving is the decision-making involved in caring for aging parents and loved ones.
The hard truths about caring for aging parents means that there are times when you make difficult decisions because the alternatives pose even greater negative consequences or risks. This is where aging, health, the healthcare system, and life cycle transitions intersect.
Health, money, and legal responsibilities are why families should become realistic and practical about discussing lifelong care relationships. If you are a caregiver for an aging parent, you see changes in mom or dad’s health, physical, or mental abilities. You may be helping out with more and more tasks around the house or hands-on care.
When Parents Need More Care
Mom or dad depend on you for help, and you’re noticing that they are becoming less independent and self-sufficient. The support you provide translates to changes in your physical and emotional health and other areas of your life if you are not comfortable setting boundaries and saying no.
The two parties in caregiving situations, adult children and aging parents often find themselves in denial or simply uneducated about the things that can and will happen. If your parents have health diagnoses like diabetes, heart disease, or breathing issues, do you know how these diseases progress and what this means for daily care needs?
Do your parents know the medications they’re taking and why? Most caregivers don’t have enough information about health or medications.
Few people become concerned about health issues until the health issues negatively affect daily activities to a significant degree. Inconsistent health issues may be out of sight, out of mind, or seem like too much trouble to pay attention to if they’re only a minor concern. The downside is that significant life-changing events like a heart attack or a stroke—that can be prevented by paying attention to minor problems—could be ignored or missed until they happen.
Tips for Preventing Crises
Let’s talk about situations where the opportunity to take preventative action is gone. It’s no longer possible. Mom or dad fall. Aging parents now need a lot of help to stay at home. What conversations about health, caregiving, and money are you having within your family today? Are you thinking that the falls were an isolated incident and your parents are not going to fall again?
On what factual information are you basing your belief that the falls really aren’t anything to worry about? Did you attend the doctor’s appointment with your parents to learn about their health concerns and the consequences of their health diagnosis? What if your parents fall again, and this time, instead of going to the hospital, rehab, and returning home, there is no returning home because of your parent’s physical condition?
What if a nursing home is the only option, where previously returning home or moving to an assisted living community was possible? What conversations are you having with your parents about being unable to take care of themselves?
Investigating Care Options
These discussions involve hard truths about caring for aging parents. Before family caregiving situations move ahead to this stage of crises, begin investigating and learning about options for care.
Talk to parents about how much money they have to pay for care—or not. Confirm if the expectation is that you are the caregiver and responsible for paying for your parent’s bills and care costs when they cannot. These are more of the hard truths about caring for aging parents—answers to questions that you may not like.
Don’t put the discussions off. Be realistic, prepare for the worst-case scenario, and hope for the best. Identifying, evaluating, and navigating care options is the responsibility of family caregivers. Caregiving never gets easier.
Care responsibilities usually become more time-consuming and complicated. The more that you dwell on the emotions instead of acknowledging reality and identifying a plan, the more the day in day out grind of responsibilities will affect you mentally and physically.
Predicting and Planning for the Future
Research about caregiver stress confirms that caregivers become sick as a result of stress. Then what happens to your parent? Who shows up to be that caregiver? If you are in this situation today and aren’t sure what to do, begin by collecting the facts about your parent’s health.
Talk to medical professionals about what you can expect in the next year, 3years, 5 years, or more years. Ask what preventative measures you should take today. Then convince your parents to participate.
Ask the same questions about your health. What should you be doing that you’re not?
Having this information is a critical decision-making point for life cycle planning. You can choose to plan and take action or crawl underground like the Groundhog on February 2 of every year, staying underground until a disaster happens.
Because of a lack of information and not receiving reliable advice from an expert, many aging parents and their caregivers remain in a state of denial until an accident forces making choices. This is another of the hard truths about caring for aging parents.
Avoiding Resentment and Blame
While life cycle transitions related to caregiving are never easy, these changes don’t have to be traumatic unless you choose to do nothing and wait for disaster to strike. The result then is usually a lot of blame going around.
“Well, mom or dad, if you would have listened to the doctor or did this we wouldn’t be in this situation today.” Or parents saying to children, “why didn’t you make me take my medications, exercise, or listen to the doctor?”
Stop the blame. We all create the life we live today and in the future. If you don’t like your life do something about it. Create change. Investigate options. Make a plan.
Unlike in fairy tales, there’s no knight in shining armor coming to save the day. You create your life just as your parents made their lives. One person can only do so much for another person to convince them to act in advance or take better care of themselves.
Caregiving Choices: A Reality Check
How many of you have visited a nursing home and know what daily life is like for the residents who live on the long-term care ward for the rest of their lives? If your answer is, you’ve not visited or you don’t know, contact a nursing home and ask them for a tour.
Say that you are investigating care options for an elderly parent and want to see and learn about the care offered in a nursing home and what nursing homes cost on a private pay basis. Take your parents and your children to see a nursing home. You may be surprised by what you see and learn.
To make good choices, learn about or see firsthand, when possible, the potential outcomes of the choices you make and those you may have to make for elderly parents and eventually for yourself.
Reading about the care in a nursing home gives you one piece of information. The hard truth about caring for aging parents means seeing a nursing home for yourself. Additionally, what do you know about the services provided by in-home caregivers, assisted living, or memory care communities?
Do you know the costs? Why might a parent need this type of care? These are all great questions that are sure to lead to answers about caregiving and life cycle transitions that we delay talking about because the issues are not real today. The hard truth about caring for aging parents is that facing these decisions is inevitable.
Choosing Today Avoids the Regrets of Tomorrow
The good news is that if you are proactive today, you and your parents will have more choices to decide about preventative and ongoing care. If you wait, then it’s likely you will be responding in crises., Feeling pressured to make a rushed decision that often results in families looking back and saying, “wow, we made a mistake.”
Which situation would you rather choose, knowing that either situation can present hard choices? More control and more choices, or less control and fewer choices. I know it’s difficult if not impossible to imagine yourself in a situation where you have to pay for the care of an aging parent or move a parent to a nursing home, or make a million other decisions you’d rather not make.
Each of us will have the opportunity to be in this position either by choice, believing that caring for aging parents is a responsibility, maybe feeling that there is no choice but to care for an aging parent, or setting boundaries about the help we will provide by providing options talking about decisions with aging parents before the need arises. The hard truth about caring for aging parents is that caregiving responsibilities can go on for years.
Caregiving Isn’t a Short Term Project
Caregiving isn’t a one-year assignment. It can be ten years or 20 years. For how long are you willing to be a caregiver, knowing that caring for aging parents or a spouse will one day become a reality if it’s not already? If you are a caregiver, burned out, frustrated, or worried about how you will care for yourself, what will you do differently today and in the near future to change this situation?
If you’re not sure, schedule a telephone or video eldercare consultation with me. You can get ahead of the issues that aging presents by taking my online caregiver course in webinar form. It’s kind of like binge-watching a Netflix series—although it’s about caregiving. The course is Helping Elderly Parents: Stay at Home and Beyond. Information for requesting an eldercare consultation and signing up for my courses is on my website at pameladwilson.com.
Thank you for joining me on The Caring Generation – the only program of its kind connecting caregivers and aging adults worldwide to talk about caregiving, well-being, health, and everything in between. Invite your family and friends to listen each week.
My website, pameladwilson.com features my caregiving library, book The Caregiving Trap, online caregiver0 courses, my Caring for Aging Parents Blog, videos, and over 100 episodes of The Caring Generation.
I’m Pamela D Wilson, the caregiving expert, eldercare consultant, and speaker. I look forward to being with you again soon. God bless you all. Sleep well tonight. Have a fabulous day tomorrow and pleasant journeys until we are here together again.
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